Friday, December 31, 2010

The Moments

There are moments when the pressure lifts and it becomes possible to simply listen.

To be.

These moments are rare for teachers because we are responsible. Responsible for educating, for assessing, for safety. Our minds are constantly one step ahead.  Always thinking, monitoring, watching, planning.

We don't drop our guard because no matter how much we may enjoy what we are doing, teaching is a responsibility that we take seriously.  Good teaching does not happen by chance.  And so the mind races.

But on the last day of school before the winter break I had a perfect moment with some of the students in my class.  In this moment they were not my students.  In this moment they were simply children.  Children who had stories to share. Stories that moved me.

I sat on the rug with a small group of five-year-olds and we talked about what they wanted for the holidays. Some had written to Santa.  Others had not.  Some were very specific while others couldn't think of anything they wanted, although they said they wanted something.  One boy said he wanted a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree with velcro letters like the one we have in the classroom.  That was all.

And they asked what I wanted.

They really listened to one another. It was brilliant.  For a moment there was no pressure.  Nothing to do next. Just happy children full of anticipation and quiet excitement.  It was an experience that I knew would stay with me. A little oasis in the busyness of life.  A moment I didn't even realize I needed. But, one that I was given. Thanks kids!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Visit From Olympic Diver Scott Donie

"What are some things you can do in the water?"

This is how Scott Donie welcomed our kindergarten children into a conversation about his journey to the Olympics. In 1992, Scott earned an Olympic Silver Medal in Barcelona for 10-meter platform diving. Only 23 at the time, he was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic diving team.

He returned to the Olympics in 1996 to compete in Atlanta and there earned Forth-Place honors for his skill on the 3-meter springboard.

These are impressive accomplishments indeed!

Scott listened as the children shared stories of swimming in the pool or at the beach and stressed that "everyone should take swimming lessons to be safe around the beach and around the pool".

He began diving when he was an 8-year-old boy and practiced every day until he was 28. Throughout the early years his dream of being part of the biggest sporting event in the world THE OLYMPICS provided motivation.

He showed us pictures of himself on the 10-meter platform (that's as tall as a 3-story building), played a video of his 1992 dive and even passed around his Silver Medal! This was my favorite.  How many times do you have an opportunity to hold an Olympic Medal?

The children asked him questions like "Do you get afraid of being up that high?" (his answer was "Yes") and "Do you still dive?" (Scott coaches the diving team at NYU).

He stated that if you combine gymnastics and going off a diving board it's a sport called diving.

We learned a lot about this sport from Scott but one thing we knew already was that it is amazing to watch. We asked to see his diving video more than once to take it all in.

Truly fantastic!

And what a great treat that he took the time to share his story with all of us. Thank you Scott!

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In American Sign Language Pah! means "finally" or "success at last!"

Well, after 15 years and much badgering my friend Maria finally came to visit my classroom.

Over the years many of my friends have come in to teach lessons (thanks Ed, Jason, Ashley, Gregg, Sydney & Denise), accompany us on trips (gratitude to Joy & Kimy) or read a book.

I am definitely of the opinion that it takes a village. Bringing in experts to share their knowledge always seemed like a good idea to me and it adds excitement to the routine school day.

Especially if the visitor brings delicious cupcakes!

Maria came in the afternoon and joined us for our math lesson before beginning her read aloud of Who Will Help Santa this Year? by Jerry Pallotta.

An unexpected outcome of her visit was that she now says she would love to become a teacher.  I don't think she will actually pursue it but the fact that the thought even entered her mind speaks to how impressed she was with our students.

I remember when I was working with Maria many years ago I went to visit Lexington School for the Deaf and left there more than ever determined to spend my days teaching. It was a dream that came true for me. Once again I feel how blessed I am to wake up every day to do something that speaks to my heart and soul.  What a gift! And what a gift I have in her friendship. Thanks Maria!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

1,000 Words to Sign

My co-teacher, Lauren (that's her on the cover!), is featured in the new American Sign Language book 1,000 Words to Sign by Geoffrey S. Poor.

It is a pictorial dictionary that also includes an instructional DVD showing the signs in motion.

The DVD contains letters, numbers and words that appear in the book both with subtitles (as a learning aid) and without (as a testing aid).

The author includes a touch of linguistic information at the start of the book including a brief history of ASL in addition to grammar.  His explanations are clear and helpful.

For those of you interested in learning American Sign Language this book is a great way to kick off your journey and motivate interest.  And for those of you who already know some sign, it will serve as a useful resource.

Congratulations Lauren, and my fellow co-worker Darren, for your work on this project.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Princesses vs. Pirates

It is the versus in the title that most interests me.

Why can't it read Princesses and Pirates?

But, I am getting ahead of myself...

In our classroom we have a varied assortment of book bins arranged according to favorite authors (Todd Parr, Ezra Jack Keats, James Marshall, Dr. Seuss, Anthony Browne, Denise Fleming, Nancy Carlson, Mo Willems), favorite characters (Curious George, Clifford, Froggy, Rotten Ralph) and genre (fairy tales, counting books, ABC books, color books, holidays, how-to books, seasons, etc.).

Our latest additions, based on student interest, are princess books and pirate books.

I began to wonder if the popularity of these books would be divided along gender lines.  So, I asked the children privately which books they liked better.  Sure enough all of the little girls said "princess books" and the little boys all said "pirate books".

My follow-up question brought more compelling answers.  I asked the girls if they also liked reading pirate books and all but one said "yes", but not one boy said he liked reading princess books.  Not one!  And the facial expression accompanying the answer clearly let me know that this was a ridiculous question to be asking in the first place.

Are societal expectations regarding gender roles at play here or is it that boys inherently find pirates more interesting than princesses?

 Is it because it is simply easier for little girls to imagine themselves as a princess rather than a pirate?

I must admit that I find pirate books more interesting but have certainly become enchanted by a princess story or two in my time.

And so have these little boys.  They are just not willing to admit it or haven't realized that they do.

How about you?  Which do you prefer? Why?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Self Portraits

Our school is in partnership with the Children's Museum of the Arts which provides art education in classrooms across New York City.

Our artist in residence, Margaret, taught our students the fundamentals of color (primary, secondary, color mixing, tints, tones, shades, etc.) and line while engaging in motivating hands-on art projects.

Several weeks ago Margaret introduced us to self portraits through the work of artist David Hockney. She invited the children to create their own self portraits influenced by David Hockney's style.  This includes a strong, single colored, solid background behind the central figure of a face to include perhaps some of the neck and shoulder area.

We were guided through the process with Margaret modeling for the students as she created her own self portrait.

Each student was given a small mirror to look at themselves as they drew their portrait in pencil on large sheets of paper.  Margaret had prepared each sheet by outlining the edges with masking tape so that when the tape was removed (after painting) it would create a clean line to frame the art.

She instructed them in mixing paints to create their skin tone, how to paint eyes and to add finishing touches such as outlining the pencil marks in black marker to make it pop.

The finished pieces blew me away.  I could easily see them used as illustrations in children's books.

Totally brilliant!

I was very pleased to see some of the parents reactions to the self portraits.

As they stated, these are indeed worthy of framing.

This experience is just another instance of children surprising me with their talent and insight.

What a gift for Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autumnal Bliss

Autumnal wonders never cease to amaze.

The colors, the crisp air, leaf piles, changes taking place that are seen and unseen, known and unknown.

I enjoy the anticipation of coming home to sit with a hot mug of mulled cider, warm pajamas, a comforting fire.

This is a time to slow down because nature demands we stop and pay attention.

Our students feel this as well.  On Monday we ventured out for a leaf walk to Madison Square Park. The task was to collect leaves of different shapes, sizes and colors.  It is wonderful that such a simple task can bring such happiness and excitement.

Especially pleasing was a particular assortment of leaves that had collected in one area just asking to be thrown in the air to gleeful giggles.  Leaves found their way into hoods, coats and Lauren's hair faster than a blink.

By the time we left, their little Ziploc bags were full of specimens to sort, graph and examine.

We have read some spectacular books to build knowledge about trees, leaves and the fall season (check out Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace for its information
and Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert  for its creativity).

Our classroom is beginning to look a lot like autumn - wreaths made of leaves decorate the walls and clementines covered with cloves hang from ribbons on our twinkle light wrapped palm tree.  It is a feast for the senses.

Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Do You Know? - Trippin'

My life is full of blessings.

They include teaching, friendship, children, love, family and laughter.

There are many more. And as we state in church "it is right to give thanks and praise".

On this journey through life I am happy to have my best friend Joy walking by my side to share the good & bad and to continuously broaden my perspective.

She makes me laugh.

In our latest podcast entitled Trippin': Class Trips and Children's Books we guessed it!  Class trips and children's books.

You can listen by clicking here. As always we invite your comments and feedback.

That's what we know!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Land of Many Colors

"Learning is first and foremost a process - a continuous making and remaking of meanings in the lifelong enterprise of constructing a progressively more and more effective mental model of the world in which one lives.  Learning is never complete" from The Meaning Makers by Gorden Wells.

Education is a process.  We are all teachers and we are all students.

Recently I was asked if I would support the growth of a postgraduate student, Jane, from the education department at Fordham University by providing a setting in which she could conduct research.  Her first assignment was to prepare, conduct and reflect on a read aloud in an elementary classroom.

Lauren and I agreed to work with Jane for several reasons including the fact that we always enjoy seeing things through a new perspective.  A fresh view helps us to grow and reflect on our own practices.

Jane was required to write a paper on her experience and was kind enough to share it with me. I was so impressed with it that I asked her if I could post a portion of it on my blog. Happily, she agreed.

When Gary and I initially spoke on the phone, we discussed his class’s dynamic, personality, and current lesson themes. Going along with the present unit on Social Justice Education, Gary mentioned a favorite book of his, The Land of Many Colors by the Klamath County YMCA Pre-school.

The Land of Many Colors is suitable for preschool- kindergarten aged students. In the story each colored group of people think that their color is best- the Blue people like blue food, the Purple people have purple pets, and the Green people think that green is best. They eventually run out of various resources and go to war. After the fighting is over, everyone must work together to rebuild their communities. They all learn that in fact it is working together and respecting the diversity of one another that is best.

On the day of the read-aloud, Gary introduced me to his class, and after joining in on their morning routine he explained to the children that today, I would be reading them a story.

As I read each page, the children had a lot to say about what was happening. Although I did not elicit individual picture vocabulary, the class often commented on what they saw or thought, saying, "Look a dog!" or "I think blue is the best."

When people in the story began fighting, the children became very excited and exclaimed things like, “Oh no!” and, “That’s Scary!” They also added sadly, “War is bad!”

After the fighting stopped, I paused to ask the class a prediction question:

Nearly all their hands shot up excitedly and as I called on them they spoke and signed, 
“The houses are ruined.”
"They are going to make food together!”
“They need food!”
“They are going to learn how to share!”

Many of them appeared anxious, and one child shouted,” Turn the page!”

Next in the story, a child whose color is obscured by dust and appears brown encourages everyone to stop and consider what has happened, and whether it would not be better to work together and respect one another. The many colored people then begin cooperating to build houses, care for pets and plant seeds. The children then had a pressing question, “Where did the brown person go?”

I explained that the person had been covered in dust, which made him look brown but now he was not dirty anymore. The children soon begin hypothesizing which person could possibly be the brown one. One child thought, “Maybe it's the blue one!” Another guessed, “I think it's the purple one!”

At the end of the story everyone lived happily and peacefully ever after. I felt relieved and happy to unanimously receive their approval. Several children shouted, “That was a good story!” 

After the story, I asked everyone to think about what the many colored people had learned.

“They learned how to share."
“They learned how to work together.”
“No color is the best!”
“Not to punch.”

Before joining Gary and Lauren's class I was not sure if the students would be able to understand and discuss the story. However, many of these students knew how to read and discuss ideas, and understood very well the concepts of respect, working together and sharing. They also considered details, like where the brown dust covered person had gone to, and ideas such as, if it was a land of many colors, why are there only people of three colors?

Jane also wrote about extension activities and remarked that reading articles about children and actually interacting with children are two very different things.


The strongest sentiment for me in her reflection is to never underestimate the brilliance of children. They will amaze you every time!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saint Bernards are "Just Right"

I love my "puppy" so much that, like a Wild Thing, I could just eat her up.

In kindergarten we have begun having our students read "just right" books.

"Just Right" books are books that children can read either independently or with a little support from an adult or more knowledgeable peer.  The books contain predictable text, usually with patterns (I see the dog, I see the boat, etc.), strong picture support and some easy sight words (I, my, the, etc.)

Based on current assessments most students could use some assistance tracking print with his/her finger (one to one matching) to establish word boundaries and use of initial letters to figure out unknown words and deepening comprehension of a text.

The latter can be done by questioning him/her during and after the reading about specific text items or extending the ideas in the book to his/her own experiences.

One of my favorite "Just Right" book series is about a Saint Bernard named Winnie.  The illustrator, William Benedict, must have certainly spent quite a bit of time around Saints.  He captures their charm, tenacity and brilliance in each picture.  I love them!

If you are searching for these types of books for your emergent reader take a look at Brand New Readers. Not only do their books feature Saint Bernards but there are also MONKEYS!

Just another reason for me to love my work!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Land Ho!

Ahoy me maties!

Shiver me timbers, after nearly two years without a playground Lauren and I can finally play pirate!

It required a sizable chunk of buried treasure (almost $250,000) to bring this dream to fruition but through unmitigated perseverance our new playground avoided the fate of Davy Jones' locker.

Structural setbacks caused unexpected delays and had the contractors walking the plank time and time again. But on Monday, October 25, we cut the proverbial ribbon and invited our enthusiastic students to explore.

The new playground is not just for pyrates, oh no, it also brings smiles to landlubbers as well. There is a wee "tree house" for the littlest revelers (too small a space for me, although I did try to enter) and lots of slides, ramps, ropes and poles.  It even has a climbing wall! And monkeys!


We'll be enjoying this for many years to come.

At least that's the plan.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Share Curiosity

The Library of Congress (bless them!) has chosen to encourage parents to read with their children in a new series of public service announcements featuring Curious George!

How I missed this fact until today is beyond me.  Thankfully my friend Cindy was kind enough to bring it to my attention. The ads are wonderful (both print and video) and bring me endless joy but the information on their website is golden.

Many middle class families assume that sharing a bedtime story with a child is a given but the fact is that there are many, many families out there who do not engage in these literacy practices.

The reasons can range from lack of interest, lack of resources or from a feeling that they are not doing it right. Shirley Brice Heath's seminal study provides a stunning example of the nuisances at play here.

The point is to read!  The Matthew effect kicks in because the more you read the better you become as a reader and the better reader you are the more you want to read.

I applaud the Library of Congress for their clear message and for choosing Curious George and The Man with the Yellow Hat to help spread the word.

Share Curiosity.  Read Together.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Parallel Play

Parallel play is a developmental stage in social activity wherein a child plays beside rather than with another child.

Both children may engage with the same toys (blocks, dolls, trucks, etc.) but they never quite acknowledge one another or join together in cooperative experiences.

It is what cognitive psychologists like Jean Piaget might define as an early stage of egocentrism, or a preoccupation with one's own views.

Teachers are often guilty of this.  We sequester ourselves inside our classrooms, behind closed doors, neglecting to share our ideas or successes.

Educational blogs are one way to combat this phenomenon.  They provide an outlet for us to open our doors and invite others into our "play".  Visiting one another's classrooms is another way.

At the end of the last school year Lauren and I ventured out to Long Island to do just that.  My friend Denise arranged for us to visit her kindergarten classroom (and we, in turn, reciprocated).  This year we have incorporated some of her ideas into our practice.

Most notably the way she conducted her morning meeting.  Morning meeting is a time where the "administrative business" of the day usually occurs.  Attendance is taken, we count off the number of days we have been in school, chart the weather, write a message together and develop calendar skills.  In the past we conducted this on the rug with all of the children seated.

Denise however did this while incorporating movement and exercise.  Her motto is "everything must have a dual purpose" and it is inspiring to see how effective this is.

Now, we begin each day on the rug for our greetings.  This is a time for American Sign Language (ASL) development without voice.  This is followed by hopping to one corner of the room to track the school days on our number line while counting forward and backwards.  Next we jump over to another area to chart attendance (again incorporating math skills and one to one matching).  Once this is completed the group hops over to the calendar and weather chart to focus on language associated with these concepts.

We conclude with some more exercise as Denise does in her classroom (counting jumping jacks, clapping hands with a partner, etc.) and by the time we begin our group word study lesson the children are ready to focus because they have "shaked the sillies out".

We gathered a plethora of ideas on our visit and I encourage other educators to open your doors and make your teaching visible.  As John Dewey wrote in The School and Society in 1899, "Helping others, instead of being a form of charity which impoverishes the recipient, is simply an aid in setting free the powers and furthering the impulse of the one helped. A spirit of free communication, of interchange of ideas, suggestions, results, both successes and failures of previous experiences, becomes the dominating note of the recitation".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Do You Know? - Podcast

My best friend Joy has introduced me to many things over the years; the writings of Mr. Follow Your Bliss himself - Joseph Campbell, the musical styling of feisty songbird Keely Smith and the wonderful world of blogging.  So, when she suggested we make a podcast I was on board.

I saw it as a way for us to document our friendship, if only for ourselves.  The easy give and take, the deep knowledge of one another that comes from 29 years of laughs, tears and drama encapsulated in digestible snippets of banter. For me it is a win-win situation. I show up at her apartment with a 4-pack of Guinness, get to chat with someone I adore and go to sleep.

Joy is the one who does all the work editing and posting.  God bless her! She is getting to be quite the technical whiz.

We decide on a topic (volunteering, how we met, religion, etc.) and off we go.  I hadn't planned to blog about our little recordings until we decided to talk about suicide.

The impetus of Joy's blog was to share with others her battle with suicide. She describes her blog by writing;

"This is pretty much just me rambling about how happy I am not to be suicidal any more. Which is pretty big doings for me. It's also an attempt to share my experiences in hopes that it might somehow help someone else who is where I was... and is having trouble believing that you can change your world. Some posts are just silly, some are more deep, but hopefully they all prove the point that life can be, and is, a wonderful thing and no matter how hard things are at the moment: they will get better. You just need to hang on."

Sadly, after we recorded our podcast teenage suicide began making headlines.  And as fitting the theme of my blog, which is education, I felt it worthwhile to add our message of support to what others have been providing.  Sometimes you don't know what will speak to a person in need.

You can find our podcast here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

ABC Books

The beginning of kindergarten is a swell time to dive into the alphabet. And what better way than ABC books?

Learning the alphabet can be tricky for young children because language is a system of arbitrary symbols.  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

We assign meaning to letters which are simply random squiggles to young children. Understanding these squiggles is part of our developmental process in both reading and writing.

ABC books approach the task of ameliorating children's mastery in different ways. Some, like the fabulous Museum ABC from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, serve as list books.

In this book A is for Apple, B is for Boat, C is for Cat and so on. The exquisite selling point here though is that each letter is accompanied by a detail (small portion) from a selection of art work by Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Stuart, Lichtenstein, etc. It is beautifully done and helps children begin to connect letters and sounds.

Other ABC books take a more interactive approach. They challenge the reader look closely at the illustrations to find the letters hidden there.

Pigs From A-Z by Arthur Geisert is one of my favorite examples of this (How could it miss? There are adorable pigs everywhere!). This is akin to the I Spy books that keep children and adults searching.  This book reinforces letter knowledge and helps solidify letter identification.

A step further along the ABC continuum are the storybooks.  It is in this realm that many authors/illustrators have found a wide audience. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault with illustrations by Lois Ehlert is catchy and popular.  I like it because it connects upper and lowercase letters with a simple rhythmic beat.
Another winner is Alphabet Adventure by Audrey Wood.  The lowercase letters are having a fun filled jaunt on their way to school when the dot from the letter i decides to play an annoying little game of hide-and-seek.  The other letters conspire to find other symbols to replace her (like a star, a heart) but the mischievous dot reappears to claim her rightful place.  The letters arrive in alphabetical order in time for school.  Also of interest are Alphabet Rescue and Alphabet Mystery.

Finally, given that I have a soft spot in me wee little heart for a certain monkey I must mention Curious George Learns the Alphabet by H.A. Rey. This book is unique in that it helps children learn letters by focusing on the shapes themselves.  The letter F becomes a fireman, L becomes a Lion and K a kangaroo.  Research seems to support the merits of such an approach.

The text is designed to promote phonological awareness and sensitivity to initial letter sounds through alliteration.

Sample text; The small h is a horse. He is happy because he has heaps of hay. George had his own horse - a hobby horse. 

The first "h" in words like happy and heaps are highlighted in color to reinforce the commonality of sound.  Letters and text are provided for both upper and lowercase letters.

So there you have the ABC's of ABC books!

For a cyber spin on ABC click here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

s'all good

That's me!

I am either very small or that is one giant flower.

I love the beginning of kindergarten.  It is a time when children are bursting with creativity in their drawings, art and writing.  They unabashedly express themselves as they make sense of the world around them.

In the morning a smiling child extends an arm saying"Here I made this for you".  In her hand are torn bits of paper containing images of you.  Or her family.  Or some design that caught her fancy.

During the day we are handed more slips of paper.

"That's you!"

I look for my expression and think "Good, I'm smiling".

And I am.

So is Lauren.  Here we are holding hands surrounded by butterflies and flowers.

We are 16 days into the school year and I couldn't be happier.  The children are brilliant.  Sensitive, caring, energetic, smiling, sometimes cranky, tenacious, giving, kind and eager to learn.  Their parents are likewise brilliant.

We had an open school night on September 22 where we (parents and teachers) all met one another.  We shared our hopes and dreams for the children and mapped out our plan to support one another in this journey.

S'all good indeed!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tips From My Mom #12

This year my mom turned 70!

She is absolutely beautiful but when she looks in the mirror she asks herself, "Who is this old woman looking back at me?"

The physical self does not match the image in her head. But, as Linda Ronstadt stated back in 1995;

"I'm 48 years old. I don't look like I did when I was 38; I don't look like I did when I was 28. It's got to be O.K. somehow. You've got to look in the mirror and go, 'This is reality, and it's all right.' I don't want to hide from that."

There is something to be said for aging gracefully.

My mom does not lie about her age because to do so would be a rejection of some part of herself.  Which year(s) are worthy of elimination?  Each experience has brought her to where she is at this moment.  They have made her the incredible woman she is today and are building the even more amazing woman she will become tomorrow.  Each day is important.

The energetic, playful child stays alive in each of us.  It is that essence that makes my mom want to dance when she hears the music of the 50s and 60s.  Elvis brings her to her feet and suddenly all those memories from her teenage years leap forward bridging the past and the present.  Music is a great equalizer.

I am 46 years old and to realize that it has been 21 years since my 25th birthday is shocking.  Now it is my turn to ask "What happened?" How is that possible?  I still feel young even if I don't look it.  But with another birthday approaching I deeply realize it is an occasion to celebrate. A time to cherish my past, recognize it, embrace it and be thankful for another year, especially in light of recent losses.

When I asked my mom for an ending quote for this post she said "I'm not going out without a fight".

Thank goodness!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Books of Wonder

Have you seen those illustrated posters with a reclining child peering into an open book and springing forth from the pages are fierce dragons, brave knights, waterfalls, pirates and all manner of magical creatures?

When I was a boy I used to love those images and the captions that read something like "Reading makes all things possible" or "Reading opens a world of imagination".

I felt like the child in that poster. I knew well the fascinating journey that reading engendered. The adventures stayed with me when I put the book down too.

My bed became a boat with billowed sail, like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, only if I stepped off my boat I would suddenly become engulfed in hot lava. My poor stuffed turtle, Myrtle (pictured), was sometimes made to test the temperature of the lava by selfishly sacrificing herself for the good of the crew. I usually let her live.

Or I could be a wizard of great power transporting myself to any place in the world with the simple blink of an eye.

I once tried to build a log cabin based on the description by Laura Ingalls Wilder in one of the Little House books. I learned about frontier life from Young Pioneers and times long gone by from Betsy and Billy .

I loved books, still do. The smell of them. The weight. The journey. I loved sitting in the back of my living room surrounded by my family who were watching television and talking while I turned page after page. Or going to the park with my grandpa, sitting under a tree with a book while he flew his homemade kites with my brothers.

All of this was running thorough my mind as I walked to Books of Wonder in NYC this past week. I heard about this popular children's book store but had never ventured over there. It was about time I did!

The store houses an impressive collection of old and rare books, classic picture books, modern picture books, sale items (50% off!) and original artwork (pictured blue horse & red bird from Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Eric Carle).

They host children's book authors and illustrators for readings and many of the books are signed by the author/illustrator.

I became lost in the familiar titles and then lost again as I explored the newest releases. When I was approached by the staff for assistance "Can I help you find anything?", my smile and wide eyes let her know immediately that I had found my little patch of heaven (either that or she thought I was some nut who wandered in off the street).

I walked out wishing that I had allowed myself more time for this visit and with a list of books to recommend to our school librarian. If you find yourself in NYC do yourself a favor and stop by Books of Wonder - they also have a cupcake cafe connected to the store providing an extra enticement.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to School

That gleeful anticipation of going back to school took a hit with the cloud of my friend James' sudden passing but the shiny, happy faces of little children offered a soothing balm.

And what shiny, happy faces!

With the arrival of each new student the commotion, joy and anticipation grew. We had a very busy morning of greeting parents and welcoming children into their new home away from home.

Each child brought his or her unique, vivid personality. There was the shy, nervous, cautious little girl who never ventured far from her mother while at the same time took in her new surroundings and eventually settled in quite comfortably.

There was the dynamic, energetic, musical and confident little boy eager to share stories of his summer, his skills, interests and family.

There was the equally confident little girl who immediately felt right at home and helped other students feel comfortable. She knew the answers to all the questions and was not at all shy about sharing what she knew.

There was the little girl who kept taking off her shoes.

There were the best friends who boosted each others comfort level as they gently glided around the room holding hands.

There was the boy who looked like he was on the verge of tears at any moment but never gave in to them.

There was the boy who wet himself and the little girl who threw up (poor thing).

And many others who helped complete our dynamic group of kindergartners.

They all made me smile and I am really looking forward to working with them this school year. Each year we count the number of school days with the children and as we march on toward the 180th day I grow sad that our time together is ending.

This was only day one and our journey has only just begun. Lucky me!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


When I was a student at The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute I had a horrible acting teacher who screamed at me because I had never lost anyone I loved. It seemed unacceptable to him that at 20 I had never experienced death.

Wouldn't he be pleased now?

I just found out that a good friend of mine has died unexpectedly. I am not even sure if I believe it yet. I called his number but he does not answer. And I feel stupid for not picking up the phone before this to say hello, sing a song or laugh about something only we would think was THAT funny.

I want to write more about James but feel exhausted. Better to drift off into slumber where this isn't true.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bimodal Bilingualism

This morning I "crashed" (thank you Connie!) the Fairview Learning Network's training at the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf in New Jersey.

It was certainly strange to be a fly on the wall and not an active participant in the discussions because, as always, I had a few things I wanted to ask/contribute.

However, it allowed me to really listen to the conversation and what struck me was the fact that all of us in the field of Deaf education are asking the same questions. And the academic geek in me became exhilarated to once again grapple with issues of language acquisition, bilingualism, reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing development and teaching methods.

A seemingly new phrase floating around out there is bimodal bilingualism (as opposed to "unimodal"). But this has only added to the confusion between language vs mode. Some use it to emphasize the fact that Deaf individuals communicate in a visual modality (American Sign Language - ASL) and read/write in English, also visual. Although there are others who would not agree with such labels.

There is no doubt that individuals who are Deaf are bilingual but there is debate in the area of codeswitching. Various researchers conceptualize codeswitching (CS) between ASL and English quite differently. There are even different names given to it depending on if the participants are hearing or Deaf.
  • Code switching with hearing signers (like Children of Deaf Adults or CODA's) happens when the participants stop talking and switch to signing ASL or vice verca. This accounts for a small percentage (5-6%) in bilingual pairings.

  • Code-blending which occurs when ASL signs are produced simultaneously with English words. For bimodal bilinguals this is common, accounting for about 95-96% of signs produced.

  • Code-Mixing is a strategy many Deaf individuals use to adapt linguistic resources to communication needs. Communication is the goal so any method that serves that purpose is utilized.
When pondering all of this along with the demands placed upon emergent readers and writers it is no wonder that there are struggles. The idea Fairview promotes is to develop understanding across languages through a clear knowledge of both. Once that happens teachers can explicitly teach techniques like bridging and chunking when there is not a word-for-word equivalent between ASL and English.

This is good stuff and I was happy I had the opportunity to pop in to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Encountering Angels

It has been a month since I returned from my European holiday and still I am unable to capture in words the impact of the experience. I grasp the fullness of the blessing only to have it flit away as I begin to mold it towards some lucid, fully formed understanding.

There are elements of angels mixed with what Joseph Campbell describes as the hero's journey. An adventure that we all are invited to undertake, to become the hero of our own lives, if only we listen to and accept our calling without allowing our ego to interfere. We are prepared for and ready for the journey. If we were not, it would not present itself. All we have to do is commit.

Many people do not. There is fear, doubt and often seemingly valid reasoning to stay put, to linger close to home (not only in the physical sense), to comfort, to what is known. It takes some sacrifice to follow "the music of the spheres, the music we dance to even when we cannot name the tune" but though it we find bliss.

Those who do, shine.

To me, there are angel-like figures here on Earth providing examples of possibility, love and kindness. And when these 'angels' take you under their wing, share their experiences and struggles and shine that white light of love in your direction it changes you.

There are angels all around.

In Zurich, Switzerland I had the privilege to spend time with two brilliant angels; Cherie and Milud. The words of Joseph Campbell seem to be living within them as they understand and embody this statement "You may have success in life, but then just think of it - what kind of life was it? What good was it if you've never done the things you wanted to do in all your life?" When you follow your bliss, you come to bliss!

Cherie and Milud? They are bliss.

They examine and question. They cherish, love and care for one another. They have life in perspective. And it seems to me that with a strong foundation you can begin to share this love and gratitude with others. And, once again in my life, I feel blessed, humbled and grateful. I thank them.

Also, can you think of a better combination than spending time with angels who celebrate cocktail hour with you at 6:00?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting to Know You

I'm driving in my car, I turn on the radio and I hear the opening lines to Getting to Know You from The King and I.

It's a very ancient saying,
But a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you'll be taught.

How is it possible that I never realized that this song was about a teacher getting to know his/her students?

This is how I envision my first day of school in September - a spectacular musical number with adorable children singing and dancing in an easy, friendly manner.

And while you watch ask yourself, "can these kids be any cuter?"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kinder Buch Laden

The title is German for children's book shop.

Children's books fascinate me. They make me happy. So, when I travel it is probably no great surprise that I like to stop in children's book stores to check out my favorite titles written in languages other than English.

But sometimes my proclivities can cause my traveling companions some embarrassment.

For instance this exchange in a book store in Rome.

Gary: Parlate inglese?

Guy at Counter: A little.

Gary: Do you have Curious George?

Guy at Counter: (stares blankly, clearly confused)

Gary: (attempting to clarify) The monkey.

Guy at Counter: Mon-key?

Gary: (deciding that I will give sign language a go as the sign for monkey must be universal especially if I add in some sound effects, which I do).

Guy at Counter: (steps back in fright as I scratch under my arms and jump around noisily. He is clearly appalled and closes the shop shortly thereafter).

I never found Curious George in Italian.

I had better luck in Switzerland.

German speaking Zurich is very kinder-friendly! At every turn there are postings for some kinder related activity. The drum playing teddy bear directed us to the Kinder Musik Laden (children's music shop) and we stumbled upon an outdoor performance by Kinderzirkus Robinson (children's circus with Robinson the clown!).

At the Zurich bookstore I was shown the Curious George books without my theatrics. Although in German he is called Coco, as in Coco Fahrt Rad (which seems to literally translate to Coco drive wheel but better known here as Curious George Rides a Bike).

They had many of my favorite titles;
  1. Der Kleine Prinz - The Little Prince
  2. Wo Die Wilden Kerle Wohnen - Where the Wild Things Are (or directly translated as Where the Wild Guys Living).
  3. Wo Ist Walter Jetzt? - Where is Walter (Waldo) Now?
This last one is especially meaningful (and funny) because my dad's name is Walter and he is 100% German.

I purchased Coco Der Neugierige Affe (Coco the Curious Monkey) and have attempted to read it but I think my German comes across as too angry and intense for children. Some things are best enjoyed privately I suppose.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I had envisioned spending the month of August recreating the dreamy landscape that was Ernest Hemingway in Key West mode. This entails waking early to spend the morning writing, researching and crafting my doctoral comps and the afternoons drinking at Sloppy Joe's Bar, or some equivalent leisure time activity.

But this ambitious plan has yet to take hold. Instead I have simply been thinking about comps while lounging about with a book (current read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle), napping, exercising or socializing.

My desire for anything too involved (like doctoral comps or even blogging) has taken a back seat to doing a whole lot of nothing much.

I am not quite sure if I should go with it, light a fire under me bum or take the advice of Scarlett and think about it tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Festival Italiani

Italy abounds with meticulously themed festivals during the summer months and each one invites gleeful participation. The La Marche region, being outside popular tourist meccas like Rome and Venice, offers a plethora of possibilities to delight locals and travelers alike.

It is quite imaginable to spend an evening in July hopping from one festival to another. Outdoor celebrations, music, dancing, history, chariot racing, delectable food, fire throwing, drink, performance art, color, re-enactments, glass blowing, juggling, flag tossing, period costumes, beautiful men, exuberant women and life call from every corner.

I attended three festivals in Italy. While I was certainly welcomed at each, it was clear that the celebrations were not designed with me, the English-speaking American, in mind. There were challenges in even the smallest tasks, such as ordering food.

At the Palio del Somaro festival (donkey races) in Mercatello Sul Metauro I bravely ordered a porchetta sandwich (delicious!) but had an awkward moment at the counter because I kept saying "sì" to an either/or question. That little dance went on way too long before I was rescued by clever hand gestures and lots of pointing.

There was certainly a friendly spirit throughout the opening ceremonies (of which I understood only a few words but contented myself with people watching) and the excitement peaked as the donkeys were mounted for their race around town.

Donkey races are slow! The donkeys seemed totally uninterested in winning or even competing at all. The good humored frustration of the riders was encouraged by the large crowd who appeared to realize that this was part of the fun. In the end I was unsure who actually won but there was no mistaking who came in last. I think the loser must have taken a detour back home before deciding to cross the finish line.

At the Fano Dei Cesari festival 5,000 men, women and children paraded in costume. There were peasant girls and slave boys, fire throwers, charioteers, servants, revelers and lots of whoops and wails. Families mingled with wild party boys, police good-naturedly accepted being pelted with ice from drunken merry makers and despite the oppressive heat and sweaty bodies everyone was touchy feely. This is a country unafraid to show affection. Everyone hugs and kisses. I loved it.

The grand attraction here were the chariot races. Unlike the donkeys, these things flew around the track. In my mind I was telling them to slow it down - what's the hurry? Somebody is going to get hurt! - but the ever-swelling horde of spectators felt otherwise. Well, it's not every day you see a chariot race.

On our last night in Italy we attended the Palio Dei Conti Oliva festival which is an homage to medieval times. Strolling musicians wandered the streets past glass blowers, merchants, jugglers, knife throwers, craftsmen and spinners.

I watched a family perform acrobatics and banter with the audience. Again, I didn't know exactly what was being said but I had a pretty good idea.

The finale was an extensive flag tossing ceremony with men in multi-colored tights performing perfectly choreographed routines. By then it was getting late and we had to get back "home" to pack because more adventures were awaiting.

* Pictures taken either by myself or Mike Thomas.


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